Most people have heard of Big Bend National Park, but fewer people are aware that there is a Big Bend State Park (actually, it is Big Bend Ranch State Park). Until Lee researched hiking in the Big Bend area and suggested we visit there, I didn’t know it existed. It has only been a park since the early 90’s, fully opening to the public in 2007. At 300,000 acres it is the largest state park in Texas.
Geographically, both parks are in the huge section of southwestern Texas where the Rio Grand River makes a 100-mile loop around the Chisos Mountains as it heads towards the Gulf of Mexico. Big Bend National Park encompasses the Chisos Mountains, making for awe-inspiring vistas and many challenging hiking opportunities. We experienced some of those in our 2016 visit.
The Big Bend Ranch State Park is upriver, northwest of the mountains, but still contains beautiful scenery, accessible spots along the river, hikes through canyons and over mesas and miles of trekking across Chihuahuan desert terrain. Because it is less well known than the national park and is less developed it is ideal for getting away from civilization. The first day there we did two short hikes and then yesterday a 7.5-mile hike out and back on the Fresno Divide Trail.
Our last hike in Arizona before heading back to Albuquerque was a perfect ending to our wonderful winter getaway. On the northwest side of Phoenix, the White Tank Mountains were a short drive from our motel. The regional park, like the others we have visited in Arizona, charges an entrance fee, but it is well worth it. Trails and facilities are top notch and well maintained.
We started our exploration on the Waterfall Trail, a short one mile out and back trail, which was paved for most of the way. Of course, we didn’t expect to see any water falling down the mountain, although there was a small pool at the base of the waterfall. What we did see was a lot of other walkers, but we were in and out before the big crowds arrived.
We drove further into the park and stopped at one of the parking lots with access to several of the trails. Most of the loop trails were longer than what we were prepared to do. Looking at the map we decided to do an out and back on the Mesquite Trail, knowing we couldn’t get all the way to the top but we would do what we could.
I was surprised when we got back to the car to see that we had done 6 miles with a 1000 foot elevation gain on the 3 miles up. The trail was so well constructed with switchbacks and good solid footing that it didn’t seem difficult at all. Or maybe it’s that we have gained some additional hiking muscle after 15 straight days of hiking every day!
Besides well maintained trails we enjoyed the views and being able to see more of my favorite Arizona classic, the Saguaro Cactus. We couldn’t have asked for better weather— no wind, sunny skies and high 60’s. There were more hikers than what we usually encounter on hikes in New Mexico but plenty of room for everyone to enjoy being out in God’s wonderful creation.